“Side Effects”–Warning: Contraindications

Side Effects

Side Effects” opens with Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum) being released from prison after serving a four-year sentence for insider trading.  His wife Emily (Rooney Mara) is frail, severely depressed, and disinterested in Martin’s re-entering her life.  Soon her world unravels as she becomes dependent upon a new, experimental antidepressant prescribed by Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), on the recommendation of Emily’s previous therapist Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones).

The side effects of the antidepressant seem to be the cause for Emily committing a horrific crime and Banks mounts a defense to keep her from being convicted. The crime is bad, really bad. But the question is not who did it but who should be held responsible?  What follows is a dark quest for the diabolical truth of this tragedy. You think you know what’s happening — but you don’t. Almost every character has secrets, lies, and hidden motives.

Rooney Mara is stunning as the wounded woman who seems to have been victimized by the antidepressant prescribed to heal her.  As her counterpoint, Jude Law gives an almost flawless performance as a self-doubting character who struggles with the consequences and repercussions of his actions defending Emily. Both Law’s and Mara’s characters cause the viewer to vacillate between allegiance and sympathy for one over the other in a dizzying set of changing circumstances. The scenes they share are the most arresting in their complexity and ambiguity of the facts.

By releasing only one detail at a time, we are kept wading through interviews, court hearings, false turns, and psychiatrist visits until, finally, everything comes together. The entire film is very subdued, impeccably structured, and intricate in plot.   You will be rewarded in the end as the spiraling momentum towards the conclusion is so unexpected and mostly unpredictable until its final scene. 

 This film is purportedly Steven Soderbergh’s last work before retiring.  Don’t miss it!

 

[Available on Netflix.]

 

 

“Shattered”–aka “Butterfly on a Wheel”

shattered_3

This intriguing tale of vengeance is centered on a theme found in Alexander Pope’s Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot” (1735) in which placing undue effort on a minor issue is like breaking a “butterfly on a wheel”.  And this first-rate thriller was so named in its British and Canadian release (2007), to be retitled “Shattered” for an American audience.

The story takes place in Chicago, where Neil Randall (played by the surprisingly good Gerald Butler) is an executive of an advertising agency. He is a cunning ad man plotting his path to the top while also a family man with a beautiful and sexy wife, Abby (Maria Bello) and a lovely young daughter, Sophie.  He is living the American Dream.

His wife Abby hires a babysitter so that she and her husband can spend the weekend at the CEO’s country house, presumably to cultivate even more political points to becoming his successor.  Without giving away too much of the plot, all I will say is that a mysterious intruder, Tom Ryan (the exceptional Pierce Brosnan) turns their world upside down. While keeping the couple under his total control, he makes it clear that his overriding intention is to destroy Neil’s perfect life.

“Shattered” is paced to perfection.  What unfolds rapidly is a cat-and-mouse game in which the clues and menace are only hinted at, but always cleverly hidden.  There are so many curves along the way, that even when viewers think they have figured out motivation and outcome, with a plot this peppered with red herrings, the vast majority will be thrown off track.

Once again, we get to see that Pierce Brosnan is not just another pretty face, but capable of remarkable acting in a role contrary to those he has played in the past.  Maria Bello is often unrecognized even though she consistently is outstanding, as she is here.  And Gerald Butler is perhaps featured in his only respectable role to date, revealing that he really can act.

“Shattered” should have received major distribution, great fanfare, advance hype and viral marketing, as well as viewer recommendations.I wonder how such a gem flew under the radar. Perhaps a little more effort should have been placed on this edgy little sleeper of a movie.

“The Page Turner”–Notes to a Thriller

The Page Turner

A French cinematic sleeper (2006), “The Page Turner” is a thriller as subtle as a sonata, fine-tuned and intricately composed.

The story opens with young gifted pianist Mélanie Prouvost, the ten-year-old daughter of a butcher, methodically practicing for an entrance exam to a prestigious music conservatory.  She and her parents have high expectations and she is determined to be one of the students. Beginning the audition in top form, Mélanie is thrown off balance by one of the judges Ariane Fouchecourt who, rather oblivious to her performance, signs an autograph, distracting Mélanie with devastating consequences.   She waits ten years, plotting her revenge on Ariane who, she feels, sealed her fate never to play again.

Mélanie soon becomes a legal secretary for Ariane Fouchecourt’s husband and rapidly insinuates her way into the lives of those whom she considers her targets–the Fouchecourt family.  At their estate Mélanie soon becomes indispensible: as a nanny to their young son, and more importantly, as the perfect page-turner for Ariane who, although famous, aspires to be at the top tier of pianists with recording contracts.  Shattered dreams and a lopsided dependency propel the pretty Mélanie to become so much more than a page-turner to Ariane and her son.  The husband needs Mélanie also, so he can continue as a highly successful, peripatetic corporate lawyer.

A psychological thriller and tale of vengeance, “The Page Turner” reveals, thread by thread, the web Mélanie weaves, entrapping the Fouchecourts with her charm, efficiency, and musical aptitude. Mélanie assumes the sweet taste of revenge will be hers.  As viewers we do not know what to expect.

The genius of “The Page Turner” is how everyone is blindsided by Mélanie’s corrosive plan for revenge.  The film ripples with the relentless logic of a set of calculus functions.  The younger woman baits the older like a calculating spider. It’s a cold but undeniably mesmerizing page-turner!